di Marco Baldini, Luisa Santacesaria, Giulia Sarno
[Philip Jeck started working with record players and electronics in the early ’80’s and has made soundtracks and toured with many dance and theatre companies as well as his solo concert work. We met him in Florence while he was setting up for a concert at Sala Vanni on May 20th 2016 and got him to talk about his gear. Photos by David Matteini]
What was your path as a musician? Where did you start and how have you arrived to this set?
I started in 1979-80 doing straight-ahead DJing. I went to New York in 1979, it was the hotbed of the stuff that was just starting in the clubs, not so much the hip hop beginnings, you know? I am talking about dj-s like Larry Levan, Walter Gibbons, I am still a big fan of their work. It was all to do with four to the floor and getting people dancing, but also, particularly Walter Gibbons actually started to do really interesting, quite sort of off-the-wall things. He also did remixes of some Arthur Russell’s things and that’s how I came across Arthur Russell, not because I knew him from somewhere else, I came across him in the disco world, because it was Walter Gibbons’ remix I bought it, and I put it on – it was Indian Ocean’s records – and I was like “My god, this is just enchanting, wow, this is amazing!”. You know, I was living in London at that time and I met people that were involved in performance, improvising musicians, some electronic musician and so I just started to move into another world. What I do now I think it’s a gradual evolution from those beginnings, over time: from then to now is a big difference, but I don’t think I have ever really jumped enormously except when… because originally I was using proper turntables for mixing, then I bought one of these [record players] because it has 78 rpm, and I wanted to use some 78 records, but actually to me the speed was amazing to play stuff, and also I like the colour because they are really quite lo-fi: I put the same record on here or there and you would hear the difference, because they don’t reproduce the sound exactly as a good turntable does, and I quite like that. I feel that they do as much the sound as anything else, in a way. I have also worked with multiple record players and used them as a little orchestra with the sound only coming out of the speakers and not amplified in any other way, for installations and performances.
And now you use all this: can you please describe the pieces of equipment that we can see on this table?
Everything that you hear, the sounds in my concert and my releases, is pretty well sourced from vinyl and these ones… these records were actually made for me, some of these in projects where I was working with other composers, they are custom made, but also I use found stuff from junk stores or whatever comes on my way. So that’s the basic source of all the sound.
So the record players for a start, you can see this has four speeds, so I can slow it down, then go back to normal speed, then go to 16 rpm, 33, 45 and 78. Everybody knows the 33s and 45s, and 78 is for the old shellac records from the fifties and earlier. There was a very short-lived 16 rpm which was mostly for learning a language. Early Linguaphones or things like that were on 16, because you can get a massive amount on one disc, but the fidelity is really quite low, so for music I don’t think it’s very good, for spoken word and like that it was ok, but I have only ever seen three discs that actually play at 16, I don’t even have one.
And so it goes through my mixer which has internal effects, which I don’t use.. I don’t use many of them.
The effects I really use are a delay pedal [Boss Digital Delay DD-6], which is a guitar delay pedal, and a bass guitar pedal [Zoom B1] which simulates different sounds of different amps, basically bass amps, and also has effects in it too.
And probably more important is this Casio SK1 which I think it stopped being made about 20 years ago. It’s a very simple sampler, a one-bit sampler that samples about over a second back at the original pitch. So through the auxiliary out I have a line in, so I can choose whichever source I’m putting in to sample in it, so they can go like an octave above, an octave below, etc.
On the minidiscs [Sony MZ-R35] I have loops I’ve recorded from the record players, there may be slightly longer bits, and also I play a little bit of bass guitar, so I’ve recorded some bass guitar lines and stuff on these two. What I like about minidiscs is that you can flip and go from things really quickly with these early ones, while the later ones started having lots of menus and stuff, but these have just a few buttons and you can move to any track and loop it. I have also used these as an editing tool in some of my releases to just cut and splice. The very first time I edited I did it on a reel-to-reel actually cutting, but with these you can do it on here but without doing all that, you can move parts around really easily, very quickly.
[And this is what all this looks like on stage]
One last question: in your approach to live performance, how much you prepare and how much you improvise?
I think it varies from show to show. I always prepare what I’m gonna start with, just because I still get quite nervous before I play, so I set something up so I can just put that on, and then once I start playing the nerves calm down. But after that obviously I know the things I’ve got at hand, all the bits of material, so I think… I know where I’m gonna start and probably the first two or three things what I’m gonna try and do, but then after that I don’t know where it’s gonna go. Often things start to happen that suggest that I should go here or go there in the sound. But I wouldn’t say it’s completely improvised, because actually I know the things that are here, so I think it’s something 50-50. Sometimes is more one way or the other depending on the way it goes, because these players, they are quite old and sometimes they don’t do quite what I expect them to do. Often that’s a really good thing, it can be a good thing because it gives you some fresh ideas or inputs, and sometimes it’s frustrating because you want that to happen and it doesn’t, so either I move very quickly from that or if it’s something really interesting maybe I’ll stay with it and try to explore it or go into it a bit more, and complement it with the other things that are happening. So it’s something between 60-40 either way.
Il concerto di Philip Jeck è parte di Hand Signed, un progetto realizzato da OOH-sounds, NODE Festival e Musicus Concentus con la collaborazione del Museo Marino Marini.